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The God Squad: Tips on finding the church for you

October 15, 2010|Rabbi Marc Gellman, Methodist church, Methodism, Protestantism, Goldilocks, church, religion

Q: I follow your column religiously (sorry for the pun!) and you seem like one of the more sensible people in God's Public Relations Department, so here's our problem:

My wife and I recently relocated from the Midwest to California and we're having a tough time finding a new church. We consider ourselves Methodists, but we're not hung up on denominational labels since God probably doesn't care what we call ourselves — just as long as we call on Him.

At the risk of sounding like a sacrilegious Goldilocks, we're having trouble finding a church that's "just right." We're glad our new hometown is known for its inclusiveness, but after visiting one church here (several times) our impression was that members spent an unreasonable amount of time congratulating themselves on how great they were for being inclusive, as opposed to acknowledging the God who made them so wonderful. (We thought, "Too soft!")

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We didn't feel right attending a church on the ecclesiastically-exclusionary side, because that would be "too hard." After visiting churches that smelled like sweatsocks and others that just featured stinky sermons, we thought we'd found the right one. However, after leaving our phone number on the pew pad several times, requesting that someone contact us, and getting nothing but bewildered looks from the pastor on subsequent visits, we thought, "Too ambivalent!"

We feel like we're wandering around in the desert, thirsty, hoping Moses might come by and whack a rock for us. Want to take a swing at our problem? — Flounder

A: NOTE: I know this guy. He's a fine fellow who's been an unreasonably loyal reader of my columns. My nickname for him is "Flounder." (I haven't had the courage to ask what is his nickname for me.)

Dear Flounder,

I am, as always, impressed by your spiritual diligence in trying to find a Protestant church for you and your wonderful wife and tolerable dog.

Doing the audition tour is the right way to begin your search for a church, but it's not the right way to end it. Most houses of worship are neither as good nor as bad as their preacher's sermons. Preaching is a spiritual art form and teaching form. Many fine clergy are not gifted preachers but have good hearts and deep faith. Conversely, many great preachers are just slick salesmen. Some are just a click away from being the guys who ask you, "So, what's it gonna take to get you into this new Toyota?"

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